How to Create Your Own Hands-on Piano Activities

Hands-on is Helpful.

I live in Cleveland Ohio in the U.S. There is a large and vibrant classical music community here due to the presence of the Cleveland Institute of Music. As a result, a lot of my student’s parents are musicians. At an introductory lesson, one pianist-father observed all of the hands-on activities his son was engaged in at the lesson. His comment was that piano pedagogy had come a long way since he had taken lessons as a boy. I believe this is true, largely because of all of the awesome sharing that takes place between all of us on the internet and on social media. There are so many great ideas and activities going around. I love to come up with hands-on activities myself, and I enjoy sharing them with our Paloma Piano community. In this post, I thought I would share how I come up with my hands-on activities.

Resources are Everywhere!

For ten years, I worked as a preschool teacher in a Montessori School. The head teacher at our school was a highly trained Montessori Specialist and highly creative person. She taught me to see everything as a potential learning activity. Discarded keys became a matching lesson; old perfume bottles: an opportunity to sort and the match tops to the bottles; clothes pins and cloth: a chance to hone fine motor skills, and on and on. The shelves at our school were filled with learning activities; most of them hand made. I noticed that there were two main strategies to come up with new activities. I also knew that I could apply these ideas to piano teaching.

Strategy 1: Think of a Problem that Needs Solving

Is a preschool student having trouble remembering the names of the keys? Think of ways that could help him remember. Use things that are colorful, interesting to look at and to touch. For young students, I like to choose things that feel interesting and are large enough for little hands to grasp. I think of using the senses of sight, touch and sound together when creating activities for young students. Getting young students off of the piano bench periodically is also important.

Older students can benefit from hands on activities as well. Visual aids can be used to teach theoretical concepts like how scales are constructed or how different triads are formed. More advanced students also love games and challenges. Is an older student having trouble memorizing? Think of ways to turn memorizing into a game or a challenge.

Strategy 2: See Something and Then Come up With Ways to Use It

There really are resources everywhere. Keep this in mind when shopping, cleaning out closets and drawers or just walking around outside. When you come across something interesting, ask yourself if it is something you can use in a piano lesson. This can be super fun and the more you practice coming up with ideas the better you will get at thinking of great and unique activities for you students.

Start With a Brain Dump

When trying to find ways to solve a problem or make use of an object. Write down every idea that comes to mind no matter how crazy it may seem. Inevitably some of these ideas will be good ones and ideas always lead to more ideas.

Here’s an example:

Jillian is 4 years-old she is having trouble understanding the concept of high notes being the on the right side of the keyboard and low notes being on the left side of the keyboard. I am going to think of ten crazy, off the cuff ways to help her.

  1. Take a paper keyboard chart turn it on its side so the right side of the keyboard is higher, then put it back down.
  2. Put a red bead or piece of paper on the right side of the keyboard and a red sticker on the paper flip it up and see how the red is high, use a different color for the low notes on the left side.
  3. Play a higher lower game play a note and have the student play a higher or lower note.
  4. Put a red sticker with an H on the student’s right hand use a different color for the left hand.
  5. Have the student put a red bead on the high side of every group of three black keys (B). Repeat with the low notes.
  6. Play a “Chase” game. Play a note have the student play a higher note as quickly as possible until the top of the keyboard is reached. Repeat for the low side of the keyboard.
  7. Use a small plastic bird and place it on the highest notes on the keyboard use something like a small fish for the low notes.
  8. Make up a little chant and movement activity to a simple tune like “Merrily we Roll Along”“The high notes are on the right, on the right, on the right.” Etc.
  9. Have the student play a five finger exercise and say the word “higher” on each note C through G. Reverse for the low notes.
  10. Have the student find a series of random notes each one must be higher (or lower) than the next. (for example; A, G, F. G must be higher than A and F higher than G)

Obviously, not all of these ideas are fantastic, but a couple of them are usable and one or two might really click with my student.

Try these exercises.

Think of some ways to help these students.

    1. Scott has been playing for three years but has trouble remembering Key Signatures.
    2. 5-year-old Sandra avoids using her thumb when playing.

Think of some ways the following objects could be used in a piano lesson. (You can add other objects to the ones suggested

    1. Pipe Cleaners
    2. Sea Shells
    3. Small Wooden Cubes

I know that teachers are such creative people and are always coming up with new ways to teach. I hope some teachers might find these ideas helpful. I would love to hear about how all of you come up with unique activities for your students.

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How to Teach Music Reading

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How to Teach Music Reading

In the last post we had discussed the challenges of learning to read piano music. This post will address how the Paloma Piano method can help students become proficient music readers.There are many ways to teach music reading. Any legitimate reading program involves hard work and practice. I do not believe there are “short-cuts” to music literacy.

In my 30 plus of years teaching the piano I have tried a plethora of programs to teach music reading including; Hand Position Reading, Intervallic Reading, and Guide Note Reading. In an earlier post I told the story of how the Paloma Method came about. Here is how I teach music reading.

Here is how the method is laid out;


The Petite Primer is meant to be used with very young children ages 3 to 5 years old. It is the first exposure to their piano and to music. Each book tells a story in poetic form, that the teacher can read at the lesson with the student. There are duets to play with the teacher, at this stage the pieces are taught by ear, or by rote. There is a big note student book with Allpha Notes and fingerings. There are also videos on the website that contain all of the music in the primer set to beautiful artwork for the kids to watch as they listen, (For more info see the video “How to use the Petite Primer”).

The books are split up for easy printing. All of the books are under 40 pages

Books 1a, 1b, and 1c;

These books teach music reading beginning with quarter notes, half notes, whole notes. and dotted half notes and the corresponding rests, along with all of the notes on the Grand Staff starting with Middle C through G, and Bass C through G. The books covers the notes in Treble C position, Middle C position, so that the notes of the Grand Staff are learned thoroughly. The books also include 4/4 and 3/4 Time Signatures Legato Playing Basic Dynamics, Repeat Signs, etc.

Books 2a. and 2b

These books include all of the skills above plus Ledger Line Notes, Notes A minor, Minor Key Explanation, Eighth Notes, Accidentals, Key Signatures Also included; Staccato Playing, Pedaling, Dynamics, Tempo Marks, The pick-up beat, Ostinato, and more Articulations,

Books 3a and 3b

These books include all of the above plus; More Major and Minor Key Signatures, The Dotted Quarter-Eighth Note combination, The Triplet, Pieces with Arpeggios,
Explanation of Scale Degrees and Chords, Alberti Bass, D,C, al Fine, Dissonance explanation, Intervals of the Major Scale. Phrasing, and More Advanced Articulations Accent Marks etc.

Books 4a and 4b

These book bridge the gap between the Paloma Piano Method and Standard Repertoire. Including such skills as; Sixteenth Notes Including the Dotted Eighth- Sixteenth combination, Grace Notes, Syncopation, 3/8 and 6/8 Time Signatures, D.S. and Coda Signs,The Chromatic Scale.

Paloma Piano Also includes many supplemental materials.

I have found that by beginning slowly with note reading and counting that students are able to build a solid foundation for musical literacy. These books include a minimal amount of fingerings and the pieces do not stay in hand position format. I have my students count carefully as they begin learning each piece so that rhythm is never neglected. On average it takes about a year and a half to two years for the average new student to complete all four books.

I have also used Paloma Piano to teach music reading with many a transfer student. I will admit that most of them find the lack if gratuitous fingerings in the music challenging. However, I have found with patience and encouragement even the most reluctant students learn to read the music. And once they can read practicing the piano becomes a whole lot more fun!

What do you think about how to teach music reading? Leave a comment below.

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